The Rossendale Valley is located around 25 miles north of Manchester, and the modern Borough (formed in 1974) is home to over 70,000 people and covers 53 square miles, its main towns being Bacup, Haslingden, Rawtenstall and Whitworth. The area has been known as Rossendale since before the Norman Conquest, and the main river flowing through the valley - typified by hills and valleys - is the River Irwell, which has its source in springs near Rossendale's highest point, The Top of Leach (1550 feet), from where it flows down over Bacup and onto Manchester and Salford.
The Rossendale towns, with their ready supply of fast flowing water from the moors above, were ideal for the spinning and weaving of cotton, and with plentiful stone available as a building material, local mills sprang up on the river banks throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The Rossendale textile industry grew rapidly from cottage-based woollen industry to become an important centre for cotton production, and by the 19th Century, cotton had overtaken wool and footwear to become the main industry of the valley - the East Lancashire Railway giving additional impetus to the growth of the area (the railway line was closed by British Rail in 1972, but it was re-opened by the East Lancashire Railway Board in 1991). At the height of the 19th Century, the Rossendale Valley was a place of mills and moors, its towns at that time producing something like 68 million pounds of yarn and 210 million yards of cloth annually.
High in the eastern Rossendale hills, the Town of Bacup is located at 835 feet above sea level. Bacup is said to be the site of a battle between the Saxons and Danish invaders in the 10th Century. Forming the eastern edge of the Rossendale Valley, and forms the boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire. The River Irwell flows down over Bacup and on through Rossendale Valley on to Manchester and Salford. Bacup's main industries have included quarrying, textiles, coal mining and shoemaking. Bacup was the first of the Rossendale towns to achieve Borough status in 1882. The modern town has a population of just over 15,000 and the town centre has been designated a conservation area of special architectural and historic interest.
Meaning literally "valley of the hazel trees", breezy Haslingden is located on a stony, steep hillside. At the height of the cotton industry, numerous mills were constructed in Haslingden, mainly in the lower part of the valley, with thousands of looms and hundreds of thousands of spindles in evidence. Haslingden is the oldest of the Rossendale towns, and became a borough in 1891. In addition to the cotton and footwear industries, Haslingden's quarries have produced stone that has been used to construct local mills, homes and public buildings, as well as other locations such as the paving slabs in Trafalgar Square, London. Nearby Helmshore now houses textile machinery collections at the Museum of the Lancashire Textile Industry.
Rawtenstall is the largest town in the modern borough, and like its neighbouring towns, was part of the Royal Forest of Rossendale. Rawtenstall became a borough in 1891, following rapid development as a textile town during the 18th and 19th centuries. At Rawtenstall cotton mills and weaving sheds were scattered among the cloughs, fields and low forest pastures. Rawtenstall cotton products included India and China shirtings, waste twills, shirtings, jacconettes, domestics and madapollams. Rawtenstall was also a centre of wool spinning and calico printing. Modern Rawtenstall is a place of interest, having the best dry ski slopes in England and the last temperance bar in the country.
Whitworth lies on the old turnpike road which ran between Manchester and Skipton. It was made a borough in 1894 and the modern town, though part of Rossendale Borough, still retains its own Town Council. Like Haslingden, Whitworth has provided building materials for local industry through its quarries.
We stop off at Helmshore, a picturesque place seen from the railway station with Musbury Tor and the dark curve of the moorlands behind it. Locals refer to the place as "Helshore", a play on words in connection with the process of 'devilling' the village excels at. At Helmshore they also spin cotton yarn and weave cotton, linen and wool cloth.
View the Helmshore Mill collection to find out more >
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